A Bit About The Origins Of Clean The World

Shawn Siepler, the founder of Clean the World, with used hotel soap before it will be recycled for those in need. Todd Anderson for The New York Times

Reusing things versus wasting them has been a major theme in these pages, especially in relation to travel and hospitality. Looking back at posts about washing hands for a cleaner world and then another about soap making for the same, it is not surprising we had already featured Clean The World in a couple earlier posts. Thanks to Victoria M. Walker for this conversation with the founder:

Getting the World Clean, One Recycled Bar of Soap at a Time

Meet Shawn Siepler, the founder of Clean the World. The nonprofit recycles partially used soap left behind from hotel guests for those in need.

When hotel or motel guests check into their rooms, they expect at the very least to be greeted with a clean space, a made-up bed and in the bathroom, soap.

But what happens when you leave that soap behind? Continue reading

Senegal’s Plastic Recycling Entrepreneurship

Waste pickers searching for plastics at the main dump in Dakar, Senegal.

The article below, written by Ruth Maclean and accompanied with photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly, is a portrait in developing world green opportunism. It is not a pretty picture, per se, but it is a sight to behold after the market for recycled plastic seemed to implode in recent years. The photo above shows the gritty reality of the work. The photos below show some of the prettier, and more entrepreneurial downstream opportunities from that work:

Workers stripping reusable plastic from mats at the Sosenap factory, which recycles plastic to make mats and carpets in Diamniadio, on the outskirts of Dakar.

‘Everyone’s Looking for Plastic.’ As Waste Rises, So Does Recycling.

Plagued by plastic pollution, Senegal wants to replace pickers at the garbage dump with a formal recycling system that takes advantage of the new market for plastics.

The main event at the outdoor venue for Dakar Fashion Week in December, which had a theme of sustainability.

DAKAR, Senegal — A crowd of people holding curved metal spikes jumped on trash spilling out of a dump truck in Senegal’s biggest landfill, hacking at the garbage to find valuable plastic. Continue reading

Experiential Learning & Social Enterprise


The waters and mountains of the Inian Islands, near Glacier Bay, Alaska.Lauren Migaki/NPR


With help from books and YouTube, Abe Marcus (left, pictured with Yasamin Sharifi, center, and Tsu Isaka) has been learning how to operate a coal-powered, hand-cranked forge found on the property. Lauren Migaki/NPR

There is a great story shared yesterday on the National Public Radio (USA) website, told in unusually long form for that outlet, by Anya Kamenetz. I look forward to more stories by this journalist — she relates a story that is as far away from my own experience as I can imagine, but I feel at home in it. The picture to the right, from near the end of the story, hints at one reason. But it is not that. Nor is it the fact that I witnessed the birth and evolution of a similar initiative in Costa Rica.

I taught a field course in amazing locations (2005 in Senegal, followed by Costa Rica in 2006 followed by Croatia, India, Siberia and Chilean Patagonia), but that bore little resemblance to the initiative in this story. All those factors may help me feel at home in this story, but mostly I relate to it as a story told well for the purpose of understanding the motivations of a social entrepreneur and incidentally her commitment to experiential learning.

In Alaska’s Wilderness, A New Vision Of Higher Learning


Marcus stands in front of the massive vegetable garden at The Arete Project in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Lauren Migaki/NPR

In Glacier Bay, Alaska, mountains rush up farther and faster from the shoreline than almost anywhere else on the planet. Humpback whales, halibut and sea otters ply the waters that lap rocky, pine-crowned islands, and you can stick a bare hook in the water and pull out dinner about as fast as it takes to say so.

This is the place 31-year-old Laura Marcus chose for her Arete Project. Or just maybe, this place chose her.

The Arete Project takes place in the remote wilderness of the Inian Islands in southeast Alaska.
Lauren Migaki/NPR

Arete in Greek means “excellence.” And Marcus’ Arete is a tiny, extremely remote program that offers college credit for a combination of outdoor and classroom-based learning. It’s also an experiment in just how, what and why young people are supposed to live and learn together in a world that seems more fragile than ever. It’s dedicated, Marcus says, to “the possibility of an education where there were stakes beyond individual achievement — where the work that students were doing … actually mattered.” Continue reading

Poo-Power Innovations

Guardian Graphic

Biomethane is an age-old concept in much of what is frequently called the “developing world”, so it’s difficult to overstate the irony of “1st world” adoption. That said, it’s heartening to read of more projects aimed at maximizing poo’s full potential.

From stools to fuels: the street lamp that runs on dog do

A long winding road climbs into a gathering dusk, coming to an abrupt dead end in front of a house. Here, a solitary flickering flame casts out a warm glow, illuminating the nearby ridge line of the Malvern Hills.

Below the light sits a mysterious green contraption resembling a cross between a giant washing machine and a weather station. This is the UK’s first dog poo-powered street lamp, and it is generating light in more ways than one.

The idea seems simple enough: dog walkers deposit the product of a hearty walk into a hatch and turn a handle. The contents are then broken down by microorganisms in the anaerobic digester, producing methane to fuel the light, and fertiliser…

…Humans have used animal dung as fuel since the neolithic period, and have known how to get flammable gas from decaying organic matter since the 17th century. Small-scale anaerobic digesters are commonplace in many developing countries, while larger plants producing heat and electricity from animal manure and human sewage have long been used in the west.

Yet the energy in most excrement still goes to waste.  Continue reading

Sustainable Village Highlight: San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala

Hi, there! I’m Mari Gray, founder of artisan-made brand Kakaw Designs, based in Guatemala. After studying International Relations and Spanish at UC Davis and then working for several non-profits in Latin America, I became disillusioned and decided to focus on sustainable development through a social enterprise, partnering with talented artisan communities in Guatemala.

I feel incredibly fortunate to work with different artisan groups in Guatemala through Kakaw Designs (pronounced <kekao> like the cacao tree), an artisan-made brand I started about four years ago.  We currently work with several different artisan groups: two weaving, one embroidery, two teams of leathersmiths, and one silversmith; all to make our designs come to life.  But it was for a good reason that we started with the weaving cooperative Corazón del Lago in San Juan la Laguna, at Lake Atitlán.

Kakaw Designs Alliance logo

We would never have been able to launch Kakaw Designs without this group of forward-thinking, professional weavers from this small Maya village.  The community itself is exceptional, with sustainability clearly a focus through:

  • Use of natural dyes in textile production, also using local traditional techniques such as backstrap weaving and ikat designs  <<Learn more by watching our video>>
  • Organization of weavers in cooperatives or associations, where women work together and can therefore take larger orders and offer quality control
  • Up-and-coming development of community ecotourism, especially birding

Continue reading

Community, Collaboration & Conservation in Mozambique

Thanks to contributor Phil Karp for sharing this great example of how peer-peer knowledge exchange can help to replicate and scale up innovative solutions.

For communities, by communities

Experience from around the world shows that managing fisheries and marine resources works best when responsibility is placed in the hands of local communities. This is particularly true in low-income countries, where there is often limited capacity and infrastructure for fisheries management and conservation.

Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) are areas of ocean managed by coastal communities to help protect fisheries and safeguard marine biodiversity. Found throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical seas, and encompassing diverse approaches to management and governance, their sizes and contexts vary widely, but all share the common theme of placing local communities at the heart of management.

Continue reading

App For Food Waste Reduction

‘A love for food and a distaste for waste’: Iseult Ward (left) and Aoibheann O’Brien in the FoodCloud warehouse in Dublin. Photograph: Mark Nixon for the Observer

‘A love for food and a distaste for waste’: Iseult Ward (left) and Aoibheann O’Brien in the FoodCloud warehouse in Dublin.
Photograph: Mark Nixon for the Observer

Thanks to the Guardian for their coverage of stories about reducing food waste:

FoodCloud: new app proves a nourishing idea for wasted food

The distribution of surplus food in Ireland is being transformed by FoodCloud. Killian Fox meets the duo behind the venture

Killian Fox

Within one community, there can be a business that’s throwing away perfectly good food and just around the corner there’s a charity that’s struggling to feed people in need,” says Iseult Ward of FoodCloud, a remarkable social enterprise which she co-founded with Aoibheann O’Brien in 2012. “We wanted to connect the two.” Continue reading

Upcycling Food Waste


Crusty heels of loaves of bread which are used to make Toast Ale. All photos from: npr.org

We are no strangers to the food waste crisis. We recently wrote about the average landfill contribution per person per state in the U.S. and on prior occasions have shared stories about the severity of poor “waste” management.  At the same time, we acknowledge that there are people who are leading the cause to reduce the amount of food thrown away and salvage the unwanted scraps into healthful and tasty food, or otherwise useful products. It is important for us to share these stories to serve as inspiration for those with an entrepreneurial spirit and to inform citizens how they can support these businesses or organizations.

Toast Ale is a London-based company that sources fresh, surplus bread that would otherwise be thrown out to brew suds and create beer. The company believes it has found an environmentally friendly way to tap into the booming craft beer market. Continue reading

Shoutout To Tyler Gage & His Runa Crew

RunaLast time I spoke with Tyler, he was just a couple years into his startup. He and I both participated in a program to share our experiences in the form of a live case study shared with social entrepreneurship students at Brown University, which inspired me for quite some time. Still does. Tyler was kind enough to contribute on this site back when he had time. Look at him now. Wow. This story in Scientific American is worth the read:

Can Tea Help Save the Amazon?

An effort in Ecuador might point the way to a more sustainable future for the rainforest and people

Continue reading

Sustainable Socks


Raymond McCrea Jones for The New York Times

News about socks? News about the deep south of the USA? Both seemed unlikely to show up on these pages until just a few minutes ago. And then we read this, and it fits the news we can use test:

Can You Top This?


Kamilla Seidler, center, who has worked in some of Europe’s top restaurants, leads the kitchen at Gustu, which is both a restaurant and an experiment in social uplift. PHOTOGRAPH BY BENJAMIN LOWY / GETTY IMAGES REPORTAGE FOR THE NEW YORKER

What were we thinking? Yesterday we chose a favorite without considering all the evidence.  We stand corrected. Here we have a story of a restaurant at the top of the world, and at the pinnacle of how the game is played today, it sounds like. The content of this story is as superb as it is well written, and the theme is much closer to our hearts with regard to our organization’s core values and social enterprise roots:

Letter from La Paz APRIL 4, 2016 ISSUE

The Tasting-Menu Initiative

Can a restaurant for the rich benefit the poor?


Look out the windows of Gustu, the most ambitious restaurant in La Paz, Bolivia, and you’ll see the city climbing up toward the looming peaks of the Andes in a lumpy, shimmering mosaic. Continue reading

What A Certain Change Of Scenery Can Do

Ludwig Wittgenstein, who knew how to sully a chalkboard with the best of them.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, who knew how to sully a chalkboard with the best of them.

The photo above will make sense below, I hope. Read on. Derek is with us in Kerala for one more week before he moves on to Australia. I am reflecting on his time here, while also currently in conversation with prospective interns for the second half of 2015. And I just received news of Michael, the poet prince of past interns, who is currently on a tug boat in the Atlantic ocean. His experience, since graduating from Amherst College the year after he interned with us, is not typical of anything other than that we have had a very interesting variety of interns who go on to do very diverse, interesting, meaningful things of their own choosing.

These reflections are mixing up with reflections on Ethiopia that I hope to make enough sense of to produce one relevant post, soon. The meaning of our Ethiopia expedition, I already know, will have something to do with the value of perspective, and change of scenery, and leapfrogged expectations.

The pitch for an internship with us is related to those same values and is straightforward, in one sense: practical work experience in sustainable hospitality, social enterprise, or some variation of the two. The trickier part of the pitch is being clear about the value of spark plugs blowing out in the middle of the night before you’ve reached the top of the mountain.  It is not possible to predict what a particular spark plug moment is going to be like in the future, or even that a particular person will be ready for it.

But it is possible to predict that most of us, most of the time, benefit from removing ourselves from our comfort zone. We may have just one zen moment, or a whole string of them, or none at all. And any of those may be just the right thing for us. It is making the decision to put one foot forward in a particular direction, and living with it for as long as it is useful for you, that seems to be the real source of valuable life experience.

So, the photo. It is not necessary to know who this philosopher was, or even that he was a philosopher. Just knowing what follows is enough to appreciate that sometimes a change of scenery is the best way to prepare yourself for the next big thing in your life:

…He revolutionized philosophy twice, fought with shocking bravery in World War I, inspired a host of memoirs by people who knew him only glancingly—and for six years taught elementary school in the mountains of rural Austria. Biographers have tended to find this bizarre. Chapters covering the period after his teaching years, when Wittgenstein returned to philosophy, are usually called something like “Out of the Wilderness.” (That one’s from Ray Monk’s excellent Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. The next chapter is called “The Second Coming.”) Continue reading

Newspaper Bag Station at Cardamom County


New member of PaperTrails stationed at Cardamom County

At Cardamom County, we have been working to get the local community involved through the group PaperTrails. PaperTrails helps provide jobs for people who could otherwise not get them. La Paz Group has appreciated the way it involves the locals by providing work and  re-purposing old newspaper. For La Paz Group they make gift bags out of recycled newspaper and sanitary bags from recycled paper. Now, we have a new member of the PaperTrails team stationed at Cardamom County. He is stationed on the second level of the Ayurvedic Center and makes bags for all the La Paz Group properties.. We like this because now guests can engage with the paper bag initiative in a new way. They can see how they are made and learn to make them as well.  Continue reading

Education As Social Enterprise

Everyone in modern market economies accepts that companies need to make a buck (rupee, yen, peso or what have you), and generally no one grudges them the opportunity to do so, as long as they do so responsibly. Grudging can follow a company’s bold commitment to “do no evil” when that company is discovered to have done something less than awesome. This raises the stakes for social enterprises, who from the outset claim to do something other than for pure profit motivation. Daphne Koller, Co-Founder of  Coursera, makes a compelling case for having risen to the occasion in this podcast interview:

Coursera was launched in 2012 and reached its first one million users faster than Facebook or Twitter. Coursera is one of a number of companies offering massive open online courses– or MOOCs– to address a growing global population and the rising costs of on-campus higher education.

Continue reading

Library, Social Enterprise, Community

Raxa Collective’s work, mostly in rural communities, brings us into contact with many organizations–public sector, private sector and hybrids–that carry out work that does not look anything like the work we do, but with some of the same objectives. Business models differ, but the mission is focused on improving the opportunity set of communities. This organization is our idea of a trifecta:

Our Model

READ Global brings together educationenterprise and community development to create lasting social change in rural communities. READ partners with rural villages to build Community Library and Resource Centers (READ Centers) that offer knowledge, information and opportunities to villagers that lack the most basic educational resources.

READ Centers are designed to serve whole communities and their surrounding areas. Resources are available for all – adults, children, students, teachers, women and even those who are illiterate.

Take a look at our new photo essay to learn more about our programs, and to see the faces and stories behind the “READ Effect”: a testament to how READ Centers serve as catalysts to uplift entire communities. Continue reading

Education, Social Entrepreneurship, And The Next Wave Of Innovation

Entrepreneur Offers India’s Aboriginal Children Opportunity to Attend School

From the transcript of a segment on a PBS (USA public television) program some months back (click above to go to the video) that gets us thinking about our outreach programs in south India:

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Here, education begins with meeting the most basic needs on an industrial scale and free of charge to the students.

ACHYUTA SAMANTA: Now they’re going for lunch.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: How many students?

ACHYUTA SAMANTA: It is approximately now 8,000-plus are going for lunch. Continue reading

Superlative Sharing

India Republic Day Doodle

India Republic Day Doodle

Although the “Google Doodle” above was published to commemorate the day the Indian Constitution came into force, it seems appropriate to reshare it for Indepence Day as well. That spirit of sharing is evident in the internet giant Google’s launching of the Google Impact Challenge in India. Nikesh Arora, Google’s senior vice president and chief business officer, wrote

On the eve of India’s Independence Day, we’re celebrating the spirit of creativity and entrepreneurship of the world’s largest democracy by spotlighting the best local nonprofits that are using technology to make the world better. Continue reading

Trashy bags : social and environmental entrepreneurship inspiration from Ghana

How we do business and perceive the world has been informed for many years by the concepts of Recycling and Upcycling. So our first introduction to Trashy Bags during a trip to Accra was exciting to say the least.

Trashy Bags is a social enterprise that makes recycled eco-friendly bags and gifts from plastic trash. They employ over sixty local people to collect, clean and stitch plastic trash into bags and other products. Packaging and “billboard flex film” waste is a huge problem worldwide, not just in Ghana. But a growing issue in parts of world where clean drinking water isn’t readily available is the build-up of spent “water sachets”—non biodegradable plastic water pouches.

It is estimated that in Ghana, waste produced from plastic packaging amounts to 270 tonnes per day; most of it non-biodegradable.  That adds up to over 22,000 tons of plastic in one year.

This figure has risen in just ten years by about 70%. Despite this rise, it is estimated that only 2% of plastic waste is recycled. You may ask what happens to the remaining 98%.   Continue reading